Emile de Antonio 1919-1989
Duration: 87 minutes
Underground is a 1976 documentary film about the Weathermen, the militant faction of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) who fought to overthrow the U.S. government during the 1960’s and 1970’s. The film consists of interviews with members of the group after they went underground and footage of the anti-war and civil rights protests during this time period. It was directed by Emile de Antonio, Haskell Wexler and Mary Lampson, who were subpoenaed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in an attempt to confiscate the film footage in order to gain information that would help them arrest the Weathermen.
Underground combines interviews with and archival footage of the Weathermen to provide a picture of this group, their opinions on American society, and their hopes for the future. The filmmakers use the material from their interactions with the Weathermen Bill Ayers, Kathy Boudin, Bernadine Dohrn, Jeff Jones and Cathy Wilkerson to structure its exploration of the formation and direction of the group. The film begins by presenting images and words that describe the Weathermen’s process of being radicalized in the 1960’s through the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement, and communist revolutionary struggles in Cuba, Russia and China, as well as historical struggles in the United States over Native American Rights and labor issues. The film moves on to discuss the Weathermen’s analysis of American society, addressing those who have inspired them, and further explaining the reasons behind their militancy, while also introducing the issue of tactics. The final section of the film addresses the group’s use of property destruction as a way to bring about change and destabilize the current, and in their view, corrupt system. They state that “no revolution can take place successfully without an armed confrontation with the state.” While the radicals themselves are reluctant to discuss the specifics of their bombings due to their unstable position as underground fugitives, the filmmakers provide us with a list of actions which they have undertaken. Underground provides an intimate look at the inner workings of the Weather Underground, and we see their discomfort with being filmed, their strong internal collective identity, and their isolation from society at large. The filmmakers do not use the interviews and juxtaposed images to promote the group or support their actions, and it is apparent that their motives for the film differ from those of the subjects that they are presenting. In the end this film provides an unprecedented look at how a bunch of middle-class Americans became self-styled militant revolutionaries, raising questions not only about the merits of their struggle, but also about past and future radical actions.